Month: January 2016

The Sending – Isobelle Carmody

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This book is the sequel to the Stone Key, so much of my review for that book applies to this one.

My favorite part was when a scholar provided exposition about the world outside Elspeth’s homeland, particularly the hints concerning white-faced lords who maintain an industrial civilization.

The circumstances of my reading this book do not facilitate a fair review. I’ve been sick, doing an intensive research course and it’s been a decade since I read most of the books in the Obernewtyn series. I feel as though half the book consisted of Elspeth worrying about leaving Obernewtyn, the other half a gruelling mountain trek. If you want to read this book, go through all the prequels and wait for a huge gap in your schedule before doing so.

Metro Winds – Isobelle Carmody

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Metro Winds is a short story anthology published by Isobelle Carmody in 2012.

It contains six stories. In genre terms I’d describe them as Magic Realist, and European fairytales is the closest they get to a unifying theme. The back cover provides a blurb for each one. I like this idea, and I’d like to see it in more short story anthologies, even though it wouldn’t be practical for any anthologies with more than ten or so stories.

I haven’t read any Carmody since primary school, but I can tell that she is still a good writer. A bit ornate, but such flourishes can be attributed to the voices of her first-person narrators. The stories are either set in Australia or an unidentified European country. Judging by her bio, I’m guessing that country is Czechoslovakia.

My favourite story was ‘The Girl Who Could See The Wind.’ The main character was a girl who had to deal with immigration, her unusual heritage and help in the rescue of her younger sister. Set in Australia, the main magic was clearly European, although Aboriginal mystical traditions received a nod.

I’d recommend this collection to Neil Gaiman fans. If they liked Neverwhere or the Sandman, they’ll enjoy this.

Queen Jane Bible – Peter Kelly.

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Okay, so here’s the deal. I changed the gender of all names and pronouns in the King Jame’s Bible, and self-published the result on Smashwords. I will be the first, and perhaps only, person to admit that the text is far from perfect. Many of the more unfamiliar names have gone unaltered, and a bible ebook with no table of contents is only good for reading Genesis before getting bored. I invite any readers (assuming they exist) to inform me of any unchanged names.

Here is a taster for you all:

‘For I testify unto every woman that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any woman shall add unto these things, Goddess shall add unto her the plagues that are written in this book.’

Listen, if any of my readers work in education and want to be a bit mischievous, just know that I don’t object to anyone showing this bible to a little kid and convincing them it’s the real deal. That can’t go wrong!

The Secret Lives Of Men – Georgia Blain

413SUECPlNL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Thirteen stories, about love, hope, regret, fear, and all orbiting around introspection. We encounter dog-walkers, tourists in India, inspirational speakers, cancer patients and many other extraordinary ordinary people. The author’s intent is exploring exactly what it is that makes these people tick, and what circumstances could break them.

I don’t think it’s entirely fair of me of to review this book. I’m far from its ideal reader, being more enthusiastic about Plastic Man and selkies than exploring human nature. (Still, at least I’d be more relevant than this guy.) I’m human. I’ve been dealing with other humans all my life. If there’s a book that’s going to show more anything about humanity that I don’t already know, it’s certainly not going to be fiction.

Still, I like Blain’s prose style. And her characters seem like people I could actually meet, and while that disengages me, it shows that she’s a better writer than I am. While her stories don’t give you the entire picture of her character’s lives, they tell you enough.

I’ve found such introspection to be a real theme in Australian literary fiction. Profundity seems to come in the form of middle-class people thinking about how dull and miserable their lives are. I don’t really go for that sort of thing, myself. I prefer comic action with a pinch of surrealism.

Blain is at her best when she captures a realistic situation that her audience would be unfamiliar with, yet recognise as plausible. ”Enlarged + Heart + Patient” is about a girl with a chronic condition and her parents dealing with hospital life, and how they tolerate the entertainers and AFL players who come to cheer them up. It resonated with me, having heard similar tales from relatives. ”Big Dreams” is about a woman’s hesitant attraction to an inspirational speaker, the chief tension being how sincere he is. I enjoyed this one because I honestly have no idea what goes on inside the mind of an inspirational speaker, and I’m glad that Blain tried to guess. Blain could’ve teased this concept out into a longer piece, or even a screenplay.

Since, I’ve carried on about not being the ideal reader of the Secret Lives Of Men, I may as well say I why tried it. I acquired the book, amongst many others, as a prize for winning second place at a short story competition two years ago. It was in a bundle from the publisher Scribe, who i should thank for encouraging such competitions. The reason I read it recently was my thesis, on masculinity. Judging by the title, I figured it would have some insights about the matter.

And another thing, there’s one story where the main couple have the same names as my parents. Urk!

I wouldn’t recommend this book to me or someone with my tastes. I’d recommend this for fans of Australian literary fiction, ABC dramas, and those who are morbidly fascinated by inspirational speakers.

The Brides of Rollrock Island – Margo Lanagan

the brides of rollrock islandThe Brides of Rollrock Island is a serious examination of the selkie myth and the long-term impact interspecies marriages have on a small island community. This book has also published under the same Sea Hearts.

The selkie myth assumes that inside every seal there is a beautiful person waiting to come out. Wikipedia says that a fisherman comes across a naked woman dancing on the beach, and so he naturally steals her seal skin. They fall in love, do the marriage thing and have a great time doing so. Until the wife finds her old skin and leaps back into the ocean to be a seal again. Very, very strange.

People marrying sea creatures. Isn’t that how Innsmouth started?

Lanagan has a slightly different take on the selkie trope. She has the ugly old witch Misskaella extract girls from seals, provided that the local fishermen pay her to do so. Basically, the selkies are the fantasy equivalent of Mail-Order Brides. Misskaella makes quite a packet, which is great for her as the text makes it explicit that she is too ugly to get married. (Fortunately, she discovers male selkies.) The witch also has a poorly hidden streak of sadism, enjoying the misery and confusion that the seal wives bring to the community.

Not-so-vividly characterised were the selkies. They didn’t have much personality beyond complying with their husbands, loving their sons and pining for the sea.
The selkie’s vague characterisation was the biggest problem I had with this book

I suppose they had a certain style about them. The way Lanagan describes them left a Mediterranean impression in my head, but their decor choices were unusual. Shells hang from the walls of their houses, they prefer plants that look like coral, they craft nets out of seaweed, and they always smell like the sea.

The most important word in Lanagan’s book is mam. Not the American mom or the normal mum, but mam. I think that’s meant to be Scottish, and I was initially worried that the story would be obscured by Scottish phonetics. You know, ye ken. Happily, the rest of Lanagan’s dialogue is written in comprehensible English. There comes a point at which the entire female population are selkies, and that is when the word mam gains its potency. A particularly touching moment occures when the young boys liberate their mams by retrieving their seal skins. I think that by the end of book, Rollrock Island’s entire system of gender and species relations is encapsulated in that one word: mam.

Like the last book I reviewed, I read this book for Uni, and my class was challenged to draw a plot diagram for this story. (A horizontal line that rises for tense moments, and slackens for the relaxed ones, ya ken.) The closest thing the book has to a main character is that crafty witch Misskaella, as the beginning of the book is localized through her and ends just after her death, but there are many portions concerning many different protagonists. Some are fishermen, one is the witch’s apprentice, and another is a mainland woman visiting a house she inherited on the island. I’d describe this book’s plot less like a traditional beginning-middle-end-problem-solution thing, but more like a timeline. This novel is really a collection of short stories and novellas united by a common setting, cast and premise. A bit like The Years of Rice and Salt.

I’d like to read more stories set on Rollrock Island. Part of what makes this book memorable is that each story is some time after the one that preceded it, to the point that cameras and buses appear in the later ones. Whenever fairy tales and modernity collide like this, I am very happy. I’d also like to read a story narrated by one of these seal wives, to see how Lanagan would describe the consciousness shift from seal to human and why exactly the selkies are so accommodating.

Give this book a chance. You’ll enjoy it.

Songman – Allan Baille

Fair Use.

Allan Baiillie’s Songman is about a young Aboriginal boy who travels with Indonesian merchants to the city of Macassar, long before Captain Cook reputedly discovered Australia. I like how Baillie switched between third and second person when discussing the protagonist’s thoughts. With convincing characterisation, solid research, and a focus on a neglected setting, I recommend that anyone who can acquire this book should read it.

Wandering Stars – Various Authors

Image used for review purposes only. Source.This is one of the best books I’ve read in 2015.

Wandering Stars is a sci-fi and fantasy anthology themed around Judaism, containing contributions from Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The whole collection was edited by the Australian Jack Dann.

There are at least two stories involving alien converts to Judaism, two others with narrators reminiscent of Tevye the Milkman, and a brilliant love story that inverts life and death. Some of these stories are fairly stereotypical and may prove grating for actual Jews, but then again I don’t really know.

Without hesitation, I recommend this collection to sci-fi devotees.